Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 10, 2013

We the People: Back to (reform) school

By John Wund
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — “School Reform” sounds good. The devil hides in the details.

“Reformer” Tony Bennett was the commissioner of education for (first) Indiana and (next) Florida. Tony was named “Leader of the Year “by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and an “Education Idol” by the Fordham Institute. A month ago, Tony resigned when it was revealed that he ordered grading standards to be changed so that the “grade” of a charter school (run by a major Republican donor) moved from “C” to an “A.”

Surely, Bennett knew his measure of school performance (forced on Indiana and Florida by their Republican legislatures) was imperfect. Perhaps, he saw embracing the “reform” movement as a way to promote his career. Whatever his motivation to cheat, he either failed to understand how many lives would be forever damaged by his meddling or else he just didn’t care.

But, Republicans aren’t exclusively at fault. Michelle Rhee claims to be a Democrat. She has been supported by both President Obama and Rahm Emmanuel. Rhee started her career in education as a “Teach for America” volunteer. She, herself, said that she couldn’t control her class of elementary students and taped their mouths shut. When she pulled off the tape, their lips bled. The children all started to cry. So, why isn’t she in jail for child abuse?

Despite her short and checkered past, Rhee was chosen to head Washington, D.C schools and is the current poster child for “school reform.” She wants increased standardized testing in teacher evaluation and promotes charter schools. Unfortunately, however, it has now been revealed that she was warned during her first year in DC about extensive cheating, making a mockery of the “school report cards” she used to reward “good teachers and schools” and fire “bad” ones. She ordered no investigation to correct the problem and continued to trumpet the inflated “improvement” of DC’s scores.

Rhee founded (the ironically-named) “StudentsFirst,” a political lobbying organization that promotes charter schools and standardized testing as tool to identify and punish “bad” schools. The organization supported “reform” in Florida (hence, the link to Tony) and similar legislation in Tennessee.

David Coleman was Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst treasurer during its opening year. Coleman is the author of the “Core Curriculum Standards.” A wealthy child of privilege, Coleman said he once tried to teach, but nobody would hire him. (As a former math/science teacher, that’s hard for me to believe, unless, of course, he had a glaring inadequacy). Coleman then went to work at McKinsey (“business consulting”) and founded an outfit to analyze data that was bought by McGraw-Hill. Next he founded Student Achievement Partners that wrote most of the Common Core standards being imposed by the Tennessee Legislature.

So, the three most nationally prominent “school reformers” (privatization advocates) appear to include two with integrity problems (Tony and the lip ripper) and someone with no classroom experience, whatsoever.

We, the People, have allowed corporate lobbyists and ideologues to direct educational policy in Nashville and across the country. We continue to discourage experienced professionals and elevate arrogant hucksters.

But, of course, plutocrats want obedient servants, not competent, creative, educated and difficult-to-control citizens. They applaud the “reformers,” but seldom send their kids to public school.